if you want to see lots of kate winslet's breasts, have i got a movie for you! for the first 30 minutes of the reader, when her former SS guard character hanna schmitz is angry, she takes her clothes off. when she's happy, she takes her clothes off. sad? off with the clothes! bored! nakedtime! about the only time she doesn't take off her clothes is when she's putting them on. leering from his lucky-dog front row seat is the boy she is having a torrid affair with. the boy is 15 and 20 years her junior. is that legal now?
anywho, voyeuristic viewers of the reader get a touchingly pornographic account of the odd couple's frenetic and very physical fling. (before their affair starts, the boy gets some dust on his face; she has him strip nude and get in the bath tub. it's a little weird.) don't despair, ladies! david kross as young michael berg shows us his doodle as well. (mercifully, ralph fiennes as old berg keeps his tool safely in the box).
((this just in: nicole kidman was originally set to play hanna. the universe has done me a deep wrong))
after a very long report of their brief affair, we get to the heart of the story: hanna and her SS sisters go on trial for alleged atrocities in the holocaust. rejected loverboy berg, suffering badly from a case of unrequired love, watches from the balcony as part of his training to be a lawyer. winslet's portrayal of one of hitler's willing executioners is superb and raises deep, troubling questions about humanity. i know of no accounts of hitler actually killing anyone. this is, of course, not to absolve him, but to raise the point that the 6,000,000 victims had hundreds of thousands of murderers. hanna stands accused of being one.
in her trial, the defence of 'just following orders' is raised in a strange and compelling way. who were these ordinary masses who carried out mass murder? what did they do before they got jobs as executioners? what did they do after? we've seen the long, drawn out quest for justice in rwanada, where 800,000 died; 1940s europe hosted many more murderers than that.
unfortunately, this is not the secret the movie dwells on. too soon, we are back to broody shots of broody berg bemoaning his broken love affair. who cares? the movie sets itself in the shadow of the holocaust - its focus on this boy's sorrow for himself is embarrassing.
winslet is likely to get an oscar nomination for this role, and she should win it. she gives a fierce, uncompromising portrayal of a dark and disturbing woman. the movie trailer boasts that it will make you question everything you believe, but it won't. if it had stuck with hanna's story, it would well have. the director's decision need not be yours, though. the reader provides plenty of food for thought - you just have to cook it yourself.